MADISON — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, is asking President Barack Obama for support in promoting the paper industry and protecting jobs for the 7,300 people it employs in the state.
On Thursday, Michaud sent a letter to the president outlining major concerns brought to his attention during a recent tour of Maine’s pulp and paper sector, which included visits to Madison Paper Industries and Sappi Fine Paper in Skowhegan.
He is also sending 159 letters he received from Mainers addressing issues in the paper industry, including a letter from Russ Drechsel, president and chief executive officer of the Madison mill, and other workers there who are concerned about the effect of subsidies a nearby Canadian mill is receiving that may be illegal.
“Madison can compete fairly in the supercalendared paper market. It’s the unfair competition we are worried about,” Drechsel said. He composed a letter expressing concern for the paper industry and support of Michaud’s efforts that was signed by about 150 employees of the mill.
Michaud visited the mill in January, meeting with workers who were concerned about a subsidy the province of Nova Scotia has given to a paper mill in Port Hawkesbury. Many worried that the subsidy appears to be in violation of World Trade Organization agreements and could put Maine paper mills at a disadvantage when they already are facing challenges from other international competition.
Drechsel said U.S. trade representatives have been very cooperative and are working on investigating the issue, but there is still more to do.
“We are 100 percent behind trying to bring to light unfair trade practices and we want to try and get the president’s attention about this issue,” said Michael Croteau, a production worker at the mill and president of the steel workers union.
In his letter, Michaud summarized his findings from his week of touring Maine pulp and paper factories. The visits, which took place over five days at the end of January, began in Madison, and stops included Skowhegan, Bangor, Old Town, Milford and Bucksport.
“Individuals at the mills described a spectrum of issues they struggle with including illegal Canadian subsidies, energy, transportation costs and environmental regulations,” he wrote in his letter to the president.
He called the subsidy package “the most pressing issue facing Maine’s paper industry” and asked the White House to put pressure on the Canadian government to comply with trade agreements.
“We would like to see the subsidy stopped and even the playing field. The U.S. needs to step up and put some duties on Canadian paper,” said Croteau, 43, of Anson.
The Madison mill pays about 40 percent of the property taxes in the town, making it the largest payer there, Madison Town Manager Dana Berry said. It also employs about 225 people.
“The mill provides opportunities not just for work here but also in the surrounding area. Madison is small and relies on the mill,” said Croteau.
He said he wrote an additional note to the president along with signing his name on the letter from the mill’s president.
“I have been at Madison Paper for 10 years now and have realized this is the career that has given me the success and opportunities I was looking for. We are looking for fair trade and nothing more,” it said.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368